It is the dream of every athlete to represent his or her country in every sporting competitions and this is no different from the Nigeria U20 female side, Super Falconets.
The girls recently donned the Nigeria colours at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Costa Rica but it wasn’t all smooth for the Chris Danjuma-led team during the competition.
It will be noted here that Nigeria has never missed a FIFA U-20 Women’s Championship since the competition began as an U19 Championship in Canada 20 years ago. They have been two-time runner-ups in 2010 and 2014.
The girls performed credibly well during the tournament till they fell 2-0 to the Dutch to end their participation.
With Nigerians applauding their efforts, images of them dozing off on chairs and bare flooring at Istanbul Airport in Turkey flooded social media early on Wednesday and sparked a wave of nationwide anger.
The players left the Costa Rica U-20 World Cup in Istanbul on Turkish Airlines after being eliminated from the competition on Sunday following a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands.
The airline that was scheduled to transport them to Abuja had already departed due to a flight delay in Colombia and they were forced to endure an annoying 24-hour stopover at Istanbul Airport.
Many Nigerians expressed their outrage about the Falconets’ plight the social media, with some users criticizing the federal government and the Nigeria Football Association for the team’s misfortune.
NFF Secretary General Dr. Mohammed Sanusi said in a statement the federation tried to accommodate the team in a hotel in the Turkish capital after learning the team would be staying in the city for another 24 hours.
But a new policy denying Nigerians visas on arrival in Turkey blighted their efforts, Sanusi added.
“The NFF did not book the team’s tickets from Costa Rica; FIFA did it. FIFA also didn’t anticipate the glitches that caused the team to be delayed by more than three hours in Bogotá and another hour in Panama. When the team arrived in Istanbul, the flight to Abuja had departed,” he said.
“Our officials pleaded for a Compassionate Transit Visa to take the players and officials to a hotel within the city, but this was not possible as they were informed that Nigeria had been removed from the list of countries whose citizens on visas were issued. Arrival in Turkey.
“The airline then took the team to a sleeping area at the airport and gave them tickets for meals every five hours. This situation has nothing to do with NFF, which made arrangements to welcome the team in Abuja ahead of the complications of travel arrangements.”
The Falconets finally boarded the six-hour flight to Abuja at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. Nigerian time) on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday morning.
However, the Falconets’ plight in Turkey exposed a number of other challenges the young athletes faced both before and during the competition.
It was reported that the players allegedly purchased their own footwear before the competition after the supplier Nike failed to do so.
The NFF however rejected the reports that the girls were not supplied official footwear and were asked instead to buy their own footwear.
“The players were handed three sets of green jerseys and two sets of white jerseys, several house-wear types and training jerseys. The players opted to wash only their jersey top (no other stuff) because when the first set of body-wear was sent to the laundry people at the hotel, it returned with some FIFA and NFF badges at the front and names at the back peeled by the machine,” NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, explained.
In a twitter engagement, a twitter user @huslerEats who is based in the United Kingdom said the football delegtion had no reason to sleep in the airport as there was a hotel, Yotelair within the airport they could use.
“Don’t listen to those guys there is a hotel they could use with no visa in the airport,” he tweeted.
Osasu Obayiuwana, a former member of the NFF reforms committee, agreed with him and questioned why the NFF was unaware of Yotel, a hotel at the airport where they could have lodged the contingent.
He tweeted with a picture of Yotel: “Didn’t @thenff know there is such a facility at #Istanbul Airport where the #Falconets could have rested instead of sleeping 20 hours on the airport floor and chairs?” Come on…”
AJ Afolabi also added on Twitter: “There are lounges with much better conditions, similar to hotels at this airport. This doesn’t look good for NFF at all. We don’t cover our own much at all when relating internationally. So sad. There is no excuse for not planning and budgeting, at least for unforeseen circumstances. That says a lot about us.”
Yotel is located at Istanbul Airport, one with airside access and one with landside access. It is located in the main terminal building on the departure level (2nd level) in the transit area (duty-free) with travelers only needing an official boarding pass and no visa to enter the facility.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that the players received $50 per day as camp allowances and were given N40,000 as transport fare back home from Abuja.
In an exclusive chat with Sanusi, he confirmed that indeed the players were paid the money but their bonuses were yet to be paid.
“The players were given $50 as camp allowances and were also given N40,000 as transport fare home. We have not yet given them their bonuses,” he said.
When probed further to ask the total bonuses the girls will be paid, he said he didn’t have the full amount as at that time but they will be paid the same time as the Super Falcons.
“The bonuses are their qualification monies. Every stage of the tournament had its specific amount. But I don’t have the figures right here with me to tell you how much their total bonuses will be. It is documented,” he stated.